seven years of manifold

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Front cover of the Shiva publications collection of MANIFOLD articles

"Begin with the tale of MANIFOLD;
The tail is the natural start.
But the Devil whoops, as he whooped of old:
'It's clever, but is it Art?''
Sorry, Rudyard. But we couldn't help it:
We've spent so much of the past decade...

on the Road to MANIFOLD Delay

At some date in 1968, a fledgling mathematical publication nestling between bright orange covers came into being. That publication was the very first MANIFOLD. The editors had other things on their minds, and no one seems to have recorded the exact date. A competition in that issue announces its closing date as April lst, hurriedly amended in the editorial to August lst: Summer 1968 is possibly the best date that historians will have to work with.

But if the date is not recorded, the place is firmly fixed: the back kitchen of a large house on Gibbet Hill, on the outskirts of Coventry. At that time it housed the Mathematics Institute, University of Warwick. The Institute, and especially Christopher Zeeman, were very much behind the venture. They couldn't let us have any money, but ... we inferred that they would not object if we used duplicator and paper from the Institute's stocks.

Zeeman envisaged a modest 10-page newssheet: you should have seen his face when we showed him the first issue - all 56 pages of it! We printed 200, which sold at 2/- (now 10p.) each. They sold so fast that we re-printed a further 150, at 1 a.m. in the kitchen where the duplicator lived. Zeeman saw the lights burning and came to investigate: he walked in, assessed the situation, and walked out - all without a single word of recognition of the event, then or since.

There was no real shortage of mathematical journals, either in 1968 or in 1980 when MANIFOLD (now costing 40p. - well below inflation) finally and gracefully ceased publication. For the main part, these were research documents or undergraduate mathematical society newsletters. MANIFOLD always defied this sort of classification: it has always been - well, MANIFOLD!

The aim of MANIFOLD was to make mathematics accessible: what made it unique was its style - the belief that it is possible to be serious about mathematics without being solemn. Its closest model was probably Martin Gardner's 'Mathematical Games' column in Scientific American, although MANIFOLD added to this a certain rough-hewn production and a racy, cavalier style of journalism. It used the broad-brush approach: everything from knitting patterns for a Klein Bottle to the Annulus Conjecture. The articles ranged from surveys of research mathematics to the long-running 'Labyrinth' series in which Theseus and the Minotaur debunked some of mathematics' most cherished myths. It had crosswords and cartoons; letters; and MANIFOLD's SIGNS (a feeble pun) specializing in anecdotes, typographical errors, and the occasional piece of lateral thinking, like:

* Why isn't the plural 'prooves', like 'hooves' and 'rooves'?
* Has it occurred to you that Concorde is actually longer than the Wright brothers' original flight?

MANIFOLD had a number of strengths, besides the consistently high standard of contribution: two are worth recording. First, it began life in the fertile environment of the Warwick Mathematics Institute. One of the founders remarked that "the environment at Warwick (in 1968) was so rich that you felt that anything you planted would grow". During its 12-year life, MANIFOLD drew on that richness and, until it ceased publication, remained close to the roots of Warwick life.

Its second strength was also its weakness. Most journals of the 'undergraduate mathematics society' genre are doubly handicapped in that one function is to report the doings of a body that varies in health and vitality from year to year, and that their editors are drawn from that same body. MANIFOLD was exclusively a magazine. It had, from the start, a strong editorial board which did not pass on after one year, but stayed with the magazine, nurturing its growth and encouraging the development of its style. Mostly, they were still around in 1980 as the final issue went to press. And that, in the final analysis, was why it closed: the editors had all built careers for themselves and had less time for the buccaneering spirit that had built MANIFOLD.

We were often asked: "where does all this invention come from?" It is time to reveal the answer: we stole. We even stole the title. The New Statesman referred to a poetry magazine of the same name in a competition, and we realised that it was just what we needed. By the time the competition's results were published, we had conveniently forgotten the theft and felt suitably indignant about the poetry magazine stealing our title. We stole the cartoonist's name, Cosgrove, from a calendar advertising a local garage, hanging in the duplicator room. Such techniques later became standard: we called them 'taking inspiration from the environment'.

We stole the surname of one Balkan politician and the forename of another to get Jozef Plojhar, a regular but pseudonymous contributor. In fact, we manufactured names wholesale. It seemed self-evident that an entire issue written by one person was a bad thing - so we invented people. We stole Claude Chevalley's surname and created Eve laChyl, our resident algebraist. We stole Barry Pilton, which could have caused problems when he went on to become successful as scriptwriter for the BBC's Week Ending satire show, but we thought that that was probably a natural progression. We invented people so successfully that when Ramesh Kapadia joined the editors, most readers spent a profitless ten minutes trying to work out who he was an anagram of.

We stole the Guardian's 'Miscellany' column, calling it MANIFOLD's SIGNS; we stole the style of our competitions from Punch; we stole the idea of having in each issue an independent (oh yes?) and unbiased criticism of the articles from She (we dropped the idea almost immediately); we stole jokes:

* What's purple and commutes?
*
An abelian grape.

But we didn't steal everything: our cartoon strip 'Gruppen' , for example - that was ours, and there's a story behind that too. In 1968, the Mathematical Institute at Oxford had a large empty glass case. The standing joke was that it was built to house the next simple group discovered. Not to be outdone, some Warwick graduate students invented and built a trap for simple groups. It was made out of an old shoe-box and populated with little cardboard figures with the names of simple groups written on them. The Higman-Sims group looked like this beastie, we recall: it's a pity that the Fischer-Griess Monster had not been discovered then: the mind boggles!

Anyway, Cosgrove based his cartoon characters on these simple groups. 'Groups' sounding too bland, we did as many mathematicians before us, changed to German, and plumped for 'Gruppen'. Cosgrove still lives, despite erroneous reports of his death in MANIFOLD-5 (we had run out of cartoons and needed something to fill up the space - an obituary sounded novel). He has an uncanny knack of following Ian Stewart around and has appeared to date in Open University course text margins, a cookery book called 'Simple Scoff', the Mathematical Intelligencer, and a paperback called 'Nut-Crackers'.

MANIFOLD even had a constitution. The most important rule was that there had to be an AGM once a year, and it had to be held in a pub.

The cover changed colour each issue. We began with orange, because that's what the Maths Inst. used for preprints, and there wasn't anything else. We moved to green, which we bought, to avoid being orange forever, as Springer Verlag is indelibly yellow. Issues 3-8 were all on quarto paper, but had graduated to multilith instead of Roneo: yellow, blue, pink, yellow, pale green, dark blue. At issue 9 international paper sizes had come, and we became A4, changing printers to the University of Nottingham who were cheaper. The colours continued: orange, blue, grey, pink, dark green, pink, blue (reprinted yellow), purple, pale green, orange. But by now the energy was running out.

The schedule was three issues a year: by 1979 we had only reached issue 19 (back at Warwick, in blue), and the flow of letters reading "Dear Sir, 1 have not received MANIFOLD for seven years; I presume my subscription has run out -- I enclose $20" was growing steadily. And so, in 1980, in eye-boggling day-glo lime green, Fastprint Ltd. of Streatham Hill, London, saw us to our rest.

The original editorial board consisted of John Jaworski, Ramesh Kapadia, Donal Monaghan, Ian Stewart and (no relation) Mark B. Stewart. After issue 11, Robin Fellgett joined and promptly invented the single ploy that MANIFOLD holds most dear: the Overseas Institutional Subscription, which probably saved it from bankruptcy.

MANIFOLD enriched all our lives. We recall the joys of stapling 600 copies per issue, using a curious device with a big lever and a knob that kept falling off. When we got fed up we let Nottingham do it for an extra 5. This led to the termly dash up the M1 to load boxes into the boot before they got lost.

There was the one and only MANIFOLD Annual Dinner at the Westgate arms, Warwick: a meal for nine with all the trimmings for 40, marred only by a rapid trip home to get ties and jackets.

There was the Turkish gentleman with his new theory (". . I felt dangerous part of the theory of gravity... I am glad ... to complete the theory."). There was William L. Fischer who sent us proofs of the inconsistency of non-Euclidean geometry (with Euclidean geometry, which seemed fair enough to us!).

There was our first unsolicited letter: "Dear Sirs, would it be possible to number the pages?" (We did, thereafter, except for issue 20, when Ramesh forgot.) There was the annual sale of MANIFOLDs at the British Mathematical Colloquium: we left piles on a table, and let people put money in a box. We once sold 43 worth in an afternoon (at 15p. each).

There were the early attempts to become rich and famous. Our stab at the first was to court the motor industry for support (offering to call our rag ROOTS, after the Rootes firm in Coventry). In view of later developments at Warwick, this was probably a narrow escape. Our stab at the second was to encourage banning in the USA, by sending free copies to Cuba. Neither country seemed especially concerned.

And that brings us to our final unwillingness to let go. The idea of a 'Best of MANIFOLD' collection has been with us since the early 1970's; but it has taken until the 80's, with the courage and foresight of Biga Weghofer, for this volume to appear. This distillation from the seven years' worth of MANIFOLD published between 1968 and 1980 is in no sense a best of MANIFOLD, however. We spent a wintry Sunday re-reading from our back numbers to compile this celebration.

It was apparent from the start that some of MANIFOLD could never be included, simply because mathematics had not stayed still. Among our more serious and successful features was 'Mathematics of the Seventies', which surveyed over a period of two years exactly where the frontiers of mathematics had got to. They have now moved on, and the period charm of those items is not enough to counter their irrelevance. We have also decided not to include anything from our two full issues devoted to Catastrophe Theory. That too has not stood still, nor would a selection adequately represent the wide range of ideas that filled those issues.

And so, in the following pages, you will find a concentrated dose of the 'spirit of MANIFOLD'. We have corrected the misprints, invented new ones, done a certain amount of internal editing where necessary, provided the briefest of commentaries and then left you to yourselves. The shades of Jozef Plojhar and Eve lachyl, who have gone to the great printing-press in the sky, watch over you!

j2 + INS
Potterspury and Barby 1981.


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